6/01/2012

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bwin.party enters social gaming with $50m investment...

bwin.party digital entertainment has today announced its entry into social gaming with an investment of up to US$50m over the next two years.

A specialist management team led by Barak Rabinowitz has been recruited to spearhead the group’s social gaming strategy, as well as the establishment of a dedicated social games studio in Gibraltar.

The company revealed its strategy of leveraging existing group assets and skills as well as those of partners to deliver long-term value and it hopes to secure a meaningful market position within the next two years.

Jim Ryan and Norbert Teufelberger, co-CEOs of bwin.party, said: “We have chosen a ‘build and partner’ strategy, one that provides us with both the resources and additional management expertise to execute our planned extension into social gaming - an exciting and fast growing area of digital entertainment that is the latest addition to our business strategy.

“Our investment will enable us to launch Win, our dedicated social gaming studio with its own development centre that will increase our speed to market both for social as well as mobile games. Intent on securing a meaningful position in the marketplace, we expect a €5-€10m impact to Clean EBITDA in 2012 and 2013. However, we are excited by the potential of this new market and believe we can deliver attractive returns in the medium term through relatively modest investment, funded from operating cashflow over the next 18 months.”


bwin.party digital - Extension of Group strategy into social gaming...

30 May 2012

bwin.party digital entertainment plc ('bwin.party', the 'Company' or, together with its subsidiaries, 'Group')
Extension of Group strategy into social gaming
Highlights:

· Investment of up to $50m (€40m) over the next two years to fund:
o establishment of a new social games studio called 'Win (Taiwan OTC: 3105.TWO - news) ' with its own dedicated development teams
o development and launch costs of a number of new social gaming applications
o the purchase for up to $23m (€18m) in cash (of which $17.25m (€14m) has already been
paid) of a number of assets from Velasco Services Inc. and Orneon Limited which will
accelerate our market entry and include
§ a number of existing B2B social gaming contracts
§ significant software engineering resources
· Strategy focused on leveraging existing Group assets and skills as well as those of partners to deliver long-term value
· Launch of first applications in Summer 2012
· Commitment to secure meaningful market position expected to result in additional costs of €5-€10m in 2012 and 2013

Introduction

The advent of social gaming has been a spectacular growth story over the past two years. Over this period revenue models have evolved extensively so that what previously was an interesting internet phenomenon has become a large commercial marketplace, one that now is worth billions of dollars each year. Whilst being very different in many ways to real money gaming on the internet and through digital channels, several of the assets and skills required for success in the social gaming world are the same as those required by successful companies in the real money gaming market:

· Proprietary gaming content
· Excellent CRM and business analytics
· Online marketing expertise
· Partnerships with leading brands

With many of these and other assets already in place within the Group, we are keen to leverage them into this exciting new market and so have launched a new social gaming business unit and strategy with its own dedicated management team and infrastructure. Called 'Win', the new unit is based in Gibraltar and will draw on resources across the Group's locations to identify and develop new opportunities in social gaming.


Management team

A specialist management team led by Barak Rabinowitz has been recruited to spearhead our social gaming strategy and the establishment of a dedicated social games studio. Having studied at Georgetown University as well as the London School of Economics, Mr Rabinowitz spent three years working in the Mergers ∓ Acquisitions and Global Technology Groups at Morgan Stanley (EUREX: DWDF.EX - news) before joining Yahoo (NasdaqGS: YHOO - news) ! in 2006. Following an MBA at Harvard Business School, Mr Rabinowitz was engaged in social gaming start-ups before being appointed CEO of Mytopia where he was instrumental in growing revenue and has extensive experience in the management and development of social gaming companies.

Alex Usach will lead a new technology development unit dedicated to social games development. He has over 20 years of management experience in software development having qualified with a Ph.D Degree in Computer Science from Vinnitsya Polytechnic University. Previously Mr Usach led Eastern European branches of Flextronics International (until 2006) and more recently of Aricent Group, a software services company owned by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. Mr Usach is known to a number of the world's leading gaming companies as a partner in developing new content for both real money and social games.
Dan Matkowski, is lead Game Producer. Previously Mr Matkowski was a leading games producer with Electronic Arts (NasdaqGS: ERTS - news) , the US interactive entertainment software company and has extensive games production experience across multiple platforms, developing products through the concept and discovery/ prototyping, pre-production, production and finalising phases.

Tilli Kalisky is Head of Publishing. Previously Associate Partner with Greylock Partners, a leading US Venture Capital firm, Mrs Kalisky is a graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Sloan School of Management and has extensive experience of working with a number of social media companies including mysupermarket, PLYmedia and VocalTec

Dennis Hettema is in charge of prototype development. Previously co-founder and head of incubator at Hettema ∓ Bergsten, a social gaming applications company, Mr Hettema developed the Group's Aces Hangout application that is now running on Google (NasdaqGS: GOOG - news) +.

Investment in development resources

Including the acquisition of assets announced today, the Group is investing approximately $50m (€40m) from existing resources over the next two years to become a major force in the rapidly growing social gaming market. As a first step, we have secured significant development resources by contracting with software developers and engineers experienced in delivering social gaming solutions across all key technologies including HTML5, iOS and Android.

Based in Eastern Europe and operating now as part of our Win Interactive subsidiary, the team has extensive experience having been behind the development of highly successful social gaming applications and platforms including Slotomania, now part of Caesars Interactive Entertainment, and Casmul, that was acquired by Playphone, bwin.party intends to launch a variety of social gaming products on the web, mobile and social networks.

As well as securing significant development resources, the Group has assumed certain B2B service contracts under which Win Interactive will continue to provide a range of social gaming and related services to third party gaming companies whilst also developing proprietary applications for the Group.


Social gaming strategy

We believe that we can establish a competitive advantage in social gaming built on the following four pillars:
· Experienced management team and proprietary gaming platform
· Portfolio of new applications online and on smartphone platforms
· Original IP in the creation and distribution of social gaming content
· Best of breed partnerships with leading independent game studios
Leveraging the Group's existing assets and skills including, inter alia, our extensive library of proprietary games content and experience in customer acquisition and analytics, we have a plan in place to reach the following milestones over the next twenty-four months:
· Establishment of a dedicated social gaming unit, Win
· Development of dedicated social gaming technology platform
· Release of social sports betting, casino, poker and bingo applications
· Launch of a new social gaming destination portal called www.win.com

Drawing upon the Group's extensive games portfolio as well as through the development of new content, Win will operate on a 'freemium' business model based on the sale of virtual credits for users to play and advance in the games, as well as to purchase virtual gifts and other consumables. Win may also seek to exploit advertising opportunities that can provide additional revenue through offers, banners and search.

Mobile is an important channel for social gaming and by drawing on the experience of our newly engaged developers, many of whom were integral to the development of an application platform for operating multiplayer-social games and gaming networks on iOS and Android devices, the Group intends to launch games using this important medium.

Commenting on today's announcement, Jim Ryan and Norbert Teufelberger, the Co-CEOs of bwin.party, said:
"We have chosen a 'build and partner' strategy, one that provides us with both the resources and additional management expertise to execute our planned extension into social gaming - an exciting and fast growing area of digital entertainment that is the latest addition to our business strategy. We are focused on building a meaningful stand-alone enterprise that will operate outside our core real money gaming business but which will benefit from the Group's significant resources and assets. Our investment will enable us to launch Win, our dedicated social gaming studio with its own development centre that will increase our speed to market both for social as well as mobile games. Intent on securing a meaningful position in the marketplace, we expect a €5-€10m impact to Clean EBITDA in 2012 and 2013. However, we are excited by the potential of this new market and believe we can deliver attractive returns in the medium term through relatively modest investment, funded from operating cashflow over the next 18 months."

Video interview and analyst presentation - 30 May 2012

An interview with Norbert Teufelberger and Barak Rabinowitz, in video/audio and text will be available from 7.00am BST on 30 May 2012 on: www.bwinparty.com.

The Group will also give a presentation on the Group's entry into the social gaming market to invited analysts in London at 11.00 a.m. BST on 30 May 2012. The presentation will be made available via a live webcast that can be accessed through the Group's website: www.bwinparty.com. Copies of the slides presented at the meeting will also be made available on 30 May 2012 and a telephone audio stream of the presentation will also be available using the following details:

Dial-In No: +44 (0)20 3003 2666
Replay (available for 1 week): +44 (0)20 8196 1998
Replay passcode: 6419292


Australian online poker gets boost from report...

Australian gambling service providers have welcomed the recommendations of a review into the Interactive Gambling Act which could usher in online poker tournaments and online in-the-run betting.

Josh Blanksby, director, legal and corporate affairs at Betfair, told Computerworld Australia that promoting online poker tournaments in Australia is a step in the right direction. He said overseas operators already offer these services to Australian consumers and operate in an unregulated environment.

“There’s clearly a demand for it and we’re of the view that if possible they should be betting with Australian operators where it’s much safer and controlled,” Blanksby said.

While Betfair does not currently offer online poker services to its Australian customers, Blanksby said it would look into the opportunity because of consumer demand for the services.

“We’ve got technology available to us to offer those services in the jurisdictions that it’s permitted through Europe and a few other jurisdictions. Obviously, if the licenses became available we’d certainly look at it,” he said.

In its submission (PDF) to the committee, Betfair also proposed legalising online in-the-run betting, which would allow users to place bets while a game is in progress.

While it is currently legal for in-the-run betting to occur over the phone or in person, it is prohibited the online.

The review has recommended any form of in-the-run betting, on any platform, should be allowed if it is approved by the relevant state regulator and the national sports governing body. However, micro-betting, such as play-by-play betting, should still be prohibited, the report said.

Blanksby has welcomed the lifting of the prohibition on online in-the-run betting and said the law was created in 2001 but technology and the way customers interact with the internet changed changed.

“It just didn’t make sense for one platform not to be allowed while others are,” he said.

The Review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 found there could be as many as 2200 gambling services which are unlicensed and breach the IGA, with an estimated $1 billion being lost per year to unlicensed online gambling providers.

The review is now up for public consultation, which will close on 25 June.

“This is an interim report only. The government has made no decisions about possible changes to the IGA and will not do so until we have had further public consultation with interested parties,” Senator Stephen Conroy, minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy, said in a statement.


Abbott comes out against online gambling...

The federal coalition has declared it will oppose any moves to open up online gambling.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says he's not against gambling overall, but he is against more online gambling options, particularly those that might target young people.

"If it goes ahead, every computer is a casino," he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday as he joined independent senator Nick Xenophon to discuss the issue.

"That's not on as far as the coalition is concerned."

Communications and Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy earlier this week released a departmental interim report into the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA).

The report suggests 30 changes to act, including measures to ban micro-betting on sporting events, such as ball-by-ball bets in cricket or point-by-point bets in tennis, across all platforms.

But Senator Xenophon says the underlying reasoning of the report - that new forms of online gambling should be legalised because Australians were using illegal overseas sites - is flawed.

Senator Xenophon told reporters that the government had changed its tune on online gambling, since Senator Conroy said almost two years ago that the risks of opening it up in Australia were too great.

"That raises some serious questions - is the federal government looking at online gambling as their next big revenue source?" Senator Xenophon said.

The Commonwealth had been the "last best hope" for gambling reform because it did not rely on gambling revenue, unlike the states.

"Tony Abbott is absolutely right - if you open this up you will unleash a new tidal wave of problem gambling, particularly amongst younger Australians."

Senator Xenophon said if the government was concerned about Australians spending money on overseas-based online gambling it should blacklist the websites and crack down on the financial transactions.

Anti-gambling campaigner Tim Costello said in a statement, read by Senator Xenophon at the media conference, that online gambling was a "predatory product". (AAP)


Playtech and Virgin Games partner...

Virgin Games has further enhanced its offering by partnering with online gaming software provider Playtech.

Virgin Games has established a direct integration with Playtech, giving its customers access to a large variety of online slot games that will be launched over the coming months. The first game to be launched is Rocky, a five-reel, 25-payline slot based on the MGM film of the same title.

This integration “reinforces” Virgin Games’ strategy to bring its customers a wider choice of game content.

Simon Burridge, CEO of Virgin Games, said: “Our goal is to provide our customers with the widest range of top tier entertainment through online casino games. We believe that it is key to offer both variety and choice so it is crucial to us that we offer a range of games from a number of the best of breed software providers.

“Since the launch of our custom built platform back in 2008, we have introduced a wide range of new gaming content to our sites and Virgin Games now has one of the widest ranges of casino and slot games available in the UK, hosting over 350 games. The addition of Playtech, a leader in its field, is a big step forward for Virgin Games customers and we look forward to launching its games with a range of promotions over the coming months.”


James Packer to face fight on Star casino takeover...

Star casino chairman John Story has vowed to fight James Packer's move to have him kicked off the board and replaced by former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, declaring he has the full support of his directors.

Asked if he was considering stepping aside from his role with The Star's parent company Echo after Mr Packer called an extraordinary general meeting of shareholders, he said: "Of course I'm not."

Asked if he had the full support of the board, Mr Story replied: "Yes."

A statement from the board supporting Mr Story is expected today.

The EGM called by Mr Packer must be held by the end of July. It comes amid moves by Mr Packer to take over The Star and build a second casino as part of a luxury hotel development at Barangaroo.

At this stage it appears Mr Packer's bid to install Mr Kennett will be unsuccessful but he will continue to press Mr Kennett forward if regulatory authorities allow him to lift his 9.9 per cent stake in Echo.

Mr Story has made clear that if Mr Packer wants to take over the casino and win board positions, he should pay a "premium" for it.

But Mr Packer's company Crown claims he has already artificially inflated the share price by lifting his stake from five per cent.

Premier Barry O'Farrell gave Mr Kennett support yesterday, saying he would be a very "capable" chairman.

Mr Packer's bid to increase his stake in Echo may face significant regulatory hurdles, with the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority to send casino inspectors to Macau to investigate Mr Packer's businesses there amid controversy over his dealings with the Ho family.

The approval process could take six months.

Mr Packer's business partner in Macau is Lawrence Ho, son of Stanley Ho, who has been linked to Macau triads in reports by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Mr Ho denies the allegations and Lawrence Ho denies any connection with his father's business interests.

Crown sources pointed out yesterday that Mr Packer had won regulatory approval in Perth, Melbourne and the "strictest" regime in the world - Nevada.

sIt is understood the Packer Barangaroo hotel proposal presented to the Premier in a meeting in March in the Premier's office involves the completion of a six star luxury hotel development at Barangaroo in 2018.

That would be built just one year before the one-casino licence for NSW runs out.

Crown and Lend Lease have been having discussions about building the hotel at Barangaroo south.

Asked for his opinion of Mr Packer's boardroom moves, Mr O'Farrell said yesterday: "I'm not a shareholder, I don't have to make anything of them.

"Jeff Kennett is certainly someone who is more than capable of being a chairman of a public company, and as I've said on the record before, I welcome investment in NSW, but anyone who invests in NSW has to meet the usual regulatory and planning approval."

But even if Mr Packer wins a takeover of the Sydney casino, it will never be as big as Crown in Melbourne.

There is a clause in the Victorian casino agreement which stipulates Mr Packer would not be able to build The Star as big as Crown (News Limited)


Packer casino bid to give Kennett a Star role...

Billionaire James Packer will ask Echo Entertainment shareholders to dump the head of Sydney's The Star casino in favour of former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett.

Mr Packer, who is chairman of Melbourne's Crown Casino, has called for the chairman of Star operator Echo Entertainment, John Story, to be stood down over the company's management of the casino and handling of a recent public inquiry into its operations.

Mr Packer has written a letter to Echo shareholders calling for an extraordinary general meeting to remove Mr Story and install Mr Kennett to the board.

Mr Packer is an Echo shareholder and it is believed the move is part of his plan to pressure the New South Wales Government to approve a second casino on Sydney Harbour.

The Government had said it would not comment, because Mr Packer's application to build the casino in the massive Barangaroo development is before the state's Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority.

But Premier Barry O'Farrell later insisted Mr Kennett's involvement would have no impact on any decision to allow a second casino.

"Jeff Kennett is certainly someone who is more than capable of being a chairman of a public company and, as I've said on the record before, I welcome investment in New South Wales," Mr O'Farrell said.

"But anyone who invests in New South Wales has to meet the usual regulatory and planning approvals."

Anti-gambling campaigner and independent Senator Nick Xenophon says he is disappointed to hear of Mr Kennett's involvement.

"What I find curious is that Jeff Kennett, through his terrific advocacy and terrific work for Beyond Blue, an organisation that has helped so many Australians battle depression; I think there is some irony in the fact, if he takes on this role at The Star casino, there is a clear link between problem gambling and depression," Senator Xenophon said.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu says he is surprised to hear of the potential new role for his predecessor, but Mr Kennett would be a valuable asset.

"Obviously there's a downside of gaming and gambling. I think if anybody is aware of that Jeffrey is aware of it, but there are also other components to what I understand is going to happen at Barangaroo," Mr Baillieu said.

The inquiry into The Star by the gaming authority reported back earlier this month.

The authority found the casino acted appropriately over sexual harassment claims against its former managing director, Sid Vaikunta.

The report said Echo promptly and thoroughly investigated the allegations and it was appropriate they sack him.


Tabcorp responds to Gambling Act review findings...

Australia’s Tabcorp has responded to the interim report released by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, following its review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.

The operator has been a long-time advocate of a review of the act, but believes that the growth of online technologies has meant that it is not fulfilling its intended purposes since it was first introduced 11 years ago.

The company stated: "Specifically, a number of gambling operators offer online services to Australian customers in contravention of the act, without consequence.”

Tabcorp has reiterated its support for an online gambling framework that creates a level playing field for wagering operators, minimises harm and maintains consumer confidence in the gambling industry.

In response to the interim report’s findings:

• Tabcorp supports efforts to strengthen sanctions against illegal online gambling operators, including the provision of more forceful warnings to consumers. To succeed, these measures will require vigilance by authorities, resourcing from government and regular review to keep pace with technological change. The measures proposed should go some way to ensuring that contravening operators are more likely to comply with the act’s requirements and are sanctioned when they are breached.

• The deregulation of certain online gambling activities, such as live betting on sports events and tournament poker, would enable Australians who wish to participate in such activities to bet with reputable Australian operators, rather than force them to bet with contravening offshore or local operators.

• Tabcorp supports the development of national minimum standards for harm minimisation. This would create a framework for the appropriate delivery of online gambling, noting the differences for customer care between online and land-based gambling activity. Standards should address responsible gambling messaging, credit betting, inducements, marketing, self-exclusion and requirements for arrangements with sports controlling bodies. Tabcorp has been critical of the inconsistent approach to responsible gambling messages, pre-commitment tools and credit betting policies, which currently apply across the country. (Intergame Online)


News Ltd moving into MMOs and online fantasy games...

News Limited wants to begin charging for massively multiplayer online (MMO) sporting games

News Limited has flagged that it is to make a push into massively multiplayer online (MMO) games and ‘online fantasy games’ as part of an effort to capture a slice of the growing online gaming market.

In its submission to the Federal Government’s Interactive Gambling Act 2001 review, the company argued for a clarification of the ‘interactive gambling’ term to allow it to begin charging users to play.

The company already offers online fantasy sports games in which users can construct sports ‘dream teams’ but these are run as “free to enter trade promotion lotteries" in order to remain compliant under Interactive Gambling Act 2001 and various state legislations. However, News Limited argues that the nature and scope of the competitions are not akin to gambling services, and hence should not fall under the Act.

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According to the submission, the fee charged for entry would be based on a “relatively small fixed annual payment” in return for News administering and providing the gaming service.

“There would be no continual investment from the participants as is required to play poker machines, online poker or sports betting where there is always a chance to take or event to bet on,” the submission reads.

“This scenario differs markedly from the issue of problem gambling which is what the Act was designed to control by limiting the provision of gambling services to Australians through interactive technologies such as the internet.”

In clarifying the Act’s definition of an interactive gambling service to allow the company to charge for its online games and “allow News Limited to adequately compete in what is becoming a largely international market in terms of interactive online games.”

Detailing its plans for massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, News said it intended to allow users to take their dream sports teams and allow them to compete against other players online.

“Entry to the MMOs would be free with participants at a later stage being afforded the non-mandatory opportunity to purchase better skills to improve performance,” the submission reads.

According to the submission, with each user win the difficulty of the game increases, thus increasing the need for users to purchase new players, skills, coaches, and equipment via ‘cards’.

“The upper limit to the number of cards one player can purchase ensure that the games requires a fixed payment which would not be comparable to regular and continual monetary injections required to play online poker or wagering on sporting events,” the submission reads.

News’ submission follows those made by a number of online gaming companies. In its submission Sportsbet called for a relaxation in the Interactive Gambling Act to allow it to compete with offshore companies.

In its submission Internet Industry Association (IIA) called on the government not to make internet service providers responsible for regulating online problem gambling.


Crown Casino To Host World Series of Poker in 2013...

James Packer's Crown Casino has announced an exciting partnership with the worlds largest poker brand, the World Series Of Poker. Set to take place at Crown Casino in Melbourne from April 4-15 2013, the World Series of poker Asia-Pacific (WSOP APAC) is a huge expansion into the world's largest gaming market.

WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart said, “Our goal is to establish the worldwide grand slam of poker and use our platform to elevate the game through a series of major championships,”
“With WSOP Las Vegas growing annually and WSOP Europe poised for long-term success after five years, the time is right to turn our attention to the dynamic poker scene in Asia and Australia. Given Crown’s success with the ‘Aussie Millions Poker Championship’, we couldn’t ask for a better partner than Crown to establish the Asia-Pacific’s definitive poker festival.”

Crown Casino in Melbourne already is the home to the world's largest tournament series outside of the World Series Of Poker in Las Vegas with the Aussie Millions series each January attracting the worlds premier players. Crown Melbourne's CEO Greg Hawkins said, “This exciting partnership brings together two industry leaders, and two strong brands, to create a premier poker event in this region”.

“Our agreement firmly aligns with our objective of attracting the very best local and international players, all vying for a coveted WSOP bracelet. We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved with the Aussie Millions and look forward to featuring WSOP Asia Pacific on our poker calendar in April 2013.”

The WSOP brand is one of the worlds most iconic and every poker player in the world dreams of one day being the proud owner of coveted WSOP Bracelet. The WSOP brand is 42-years old and in 2007 it expanded beyond the USA with the launch of the WSOP Europe in London (2007-2010) and subsequently into France (2011). The WSOP APAC is set to tap into the tremendous growth of peer-2-peer gaming in this region.

As part of the agreement with the WSOP, the WSOP APAC events are expected to be televised globally across ESPN. Fox Sports, as seen on Foxtel, already broadcasts games from competitor, World Poker Tour (owned by Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment).

One man who is no stranger to ESPN and the WSOP is Australian local sporting hero, Joe Hachem. Way back in 2005 Joe won the most prestigious poker event in the world, the World Series Of Poker Main Event.

“It’s thrilling to think the World Series of Poker is coming to Australian soil,” said Joe Hachem. “I know first-hand what a life-changing moment winning the WSOP gold bracelet was and how it served as a catalyst for the growth of poker in Australia and Asia. It will be a dream come true to host a worldwide poker event such as this at Crown. I can’t wait.”

The full WSOP APAC schedule is set to be released later this year.


Marvel Entertainment - The Avengers Boosting Marvel Slots Popularity; Media Agency...

The box office success of Marvel Entertainment comic book based movie 'The Avengers', is boosting the popularity of Marvel slot games across internet networks, the Media Man agency has reported.

A Media Man spokesperson said "Marvel themed games have been popular ever since they were first released, but the success of Marvel Entertainment movies such as Thor, Captain America and The Avengers has at least doubled their popularity according to our data. A new rumoured Hulk movie or TV series, and the upcoming release of The Wolverine movie, staring Australia's own Hugh Jackman, will only further spike online game popularity."

Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment has licensed the Marvel deal, and the games can be found at Hitwise top ten website portals such as Media Man, which has a b2b in place with Bwin.Party and PartyCasino.

More Marvel Entertainment games are in the works and the Media Man agency will be providing detailed reviews on the games as more information comes to hand.

Gamers and gamblers, as always - bet with your head, not over it, and have fun.

Marvel Entertainment movie game fans and true believers...there's only one thing to say - Excelsior!


Chris Hemsworth Catches Self From Fame, Calls Hollywood Rise Amazing...

Chris Hemsworth is literally lording over cinema lobbies recently. His arresting larger-than-life posters and stand-ins are displayed as Thor in “Marvel’s The Avengers,” “The Cabin in the Woods” and forthcoming film “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

“[Fame is] absolutely [surreal] I catch myself and I think ‘oh my God.’ I’ve been in the business 11, 12 years and now I’m doing exactly what I dreamed of. It’s funny because when you are right in the eye of the storm you don’t realize it. Then suddenly you catch yourself and go ‘wow, this is amazing.’”

Hemsworth spends most of the awesome Hollywood time going through the motion without really realizing how huge his year has been since he starred in “Thor.” But he gets reminded of the feat through family.

“What’s most enjoyable is when my parents come and visit and I’m able to see it through their eyes. That’s so great. They are blown away every time they come to a set to visit. And it’s lovely going to premieres with them. We all just have a laugh about it.”

For the actor, it seems just yesterday when he came to LA from Australia and struggled to find acting gigs. But looking back now, “I’d had a good year of doing nothing and I was about to go home when these things started happening. I worked with Kenneth Branagh, Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman in ‘Thor.’ These are great professionals who I respect enormously and they are such a good bunch of people, too. Then I jumped into ‘The Avengers’ with another amazing cast and from that to ‘Snow White and the Huntsman.’ It’s been incredible. Next I’ll be working with Ron Howard on ‘Rush.’”

A family man off-camera, Hemsworth’s family life is also in the upswing. Happily married to actress Elsa Pataky and a new father to a baby girl born May 14, Hemsworth is one rare example that some people can have it all.

“I am very excited (about fatherhood). As a kid, my parents travelled up to the Northern Territory and all over Australia. I look forward to doing that kind of thing with my family. So becoming a father is another exciting journey for me.”

Playing A Drunk Huntsman

The 28-year-old actor only gets to visit the dark side when filming. In “Snow White and the Huntsman,” the actor stars opposite Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron. “It’s certainly more the Grimm’s fairytale version of Snow White than the Disney version that we know from the cartoons. ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ is epic in every way. The scale of the picture is huge. For example, we were shooting 150 people on horseback riding down the beach to storm the Queen’s castle, a fantastic scene we shot down in Wales. I’ve never seen anything this size. And the sets were incredible. They built castles and courtyards and villages one after another.”

He likened the production to the epic battle scenes of “Lord of the Rings” and “Gladiator.” “It’s a sort of on the scale of a ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Gladiator’ film. What was great for me was Rupert Sanders’ (director) vision for the film and the fact that there are fully developed characters. There’s nothing black and white about it. Even the Queen has great motivation for doing what she is doing. She is not just evil for the sake of being evil. Snow White, too, has her own conflicts. The Huntsman, who I play, is a real lost soul and has sort of given up on the world and then sees a bit of light in Snow White. She sees it in him, too, and all of a sudden he is forced to re-think things and find who he really is. It’s a very redemptive story for my character. There are some beautiful character arcs.”

In “Huntsman,” the dwarves are played by Ray Winstone, Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins among others. “The dwarves are amazing. To work with those guys and actually to sit off set and listen to Ray Winstone, Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins chatting away to each other, telling stories, all their banter, was such a treat. What they add to the film is just brilliant. It’s one of my favourite things about the film,” said Hemsworth.

As the Huntsman, Hemsworth said he was “hired as a bit of a mercenary. He’s a drunk and he puts himself into situations where he doesn’t really care what’s going to happen. And he’s doesn’t have much of a choice about whether he will go and capture Snow White. He is kind of forced into it but at the same time he is offered something that The Queen promises. So he weighs his options and agrees to do it. By the time he meets Snow White and captures her, his conscience starts to play into it and he starts to see the light that Snow White has. He begins to question what he is doing.”

As far as Hollywood’s current obsession with fairy tales goes, Hemsworth said it has a lot to do with the stories being familiar to viewers. “I think it’s because fairy tales are familiar to people. These stories have survived so long so obviously there is something enjoyable about them. It can be tough sometimes to get people into the cinema so when you have a film of this scale, with all of the special effects, people want to see it on the big screen.”


Hugh Jackman tweets Wolverine sequel start date...

Uncross those adamantium claws because The Wolverine could go into production in Sydney as soon as August, according to a tweet from Hugh Jackman.

In a reply to a fan who tweeted him about when his Wolverine sequel would start filming, Jackman replied: "(it) starts shooting in August!!!"

The Aussie star, who is currently filming Les Miserables with Russell Crowe, will take a two month break before filming begins so he can bulk up his famous frame for The Wolverine.

The news was announced last month that the state and federal government had secured a deal with 20th Century Fox to have the film shoot locally, bringing some 2000 jobs to Sydney.

It was a welcome relief for fans of Jackman's portrayal of comic book hero Wolverine.

The sequel to X-Men spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine has experienced no shortage of trouble in its pre-production stages, with a 2011 start date in Japan having to be canceled after the tsunami.

Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky was attached to the project, before dropping out and being replaced by James Manogold (Walk The Line, Girl, Interrupted).

Jackman says he's looking forward to working with Manogold, who directed him on rom-com Kate and Leopold.

"He’ a great director and he’s very smart.

"I know he’s going to make an amazing film and this is the best script we’ve ever had.” (News Limited)

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